British Airways

On The Guns of August

I recently finished reading The Guns of August, the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic about the Outbreak of World War I, by Barbara W. Tuchman.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

Wilson, facing this group of “ignorant men,” as he called them, and accompanied by his fellow officer and future chief, Sir John French, “who knows nothing at all about the subject,” pinned up his great map of Belgium on the wall and lectured for two hours. He swept away many illusions when he explained how Germany, counting on Russia’s slow mobilization, would send the bulk of her forces against the French, achieving superiority of numbers over them. He correctly predicated the German plan of attack upon a right-wing envelopment but, schooled in the French theories, estimated the force that would come down west of the Meuse at no more than four divisions. He stated that, if all six British divisions were sent immediately upon the outbreak of war to the extreme left of the French line, the chances of stopping the Germans would be favorable.

Coming from Haldane this conclusion had a profound effect upon Liberal thinking and planning. The first result was a naval pact with France by which the British undertook at threat of war to safeguard the Channel and French coasts from enemy attack, leaving the French fleet free to concentrate in the Mediterranean. As this disposed the French fleet where it would not otherwise be, except by virtue of the agreement, it left a distinct obligation upon Britain…This curious document managed to satisfy everybody: the French because the whole British Cabinet Government had now officially acknowledged the existence of the joint plans, the antiwar group because it said England was not “committed,” and Grey because he had evolved a England was not “committed,” and Grey because he had evolved a formula that both saved the plans and quieted their opponents. To have substituted a definite alliance with France, as he was urged in some quarters, would “break up the Cabinet,” he said.

War pressed against every frontier. Suddenly dismayed, governments Struggled and twisted to fend it off. It was no use. Agents at frontiers were reporting every cavalry patrol as a deployment to beat the mobilization gun. General staffs, goaded by their relentless timetables, were pounding the table for the signal to move lest their opponents gain an hour’s head start. Appalled upon the brink, the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country’s fate attempted to back away but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.

How far reduced, how distant the end, no one yet knew. No one could realize that for numbers engaged and for rate and number of losses suffered over a comparable period of combat, the greatest battle of the war had already been fought. No one could yet foresee its consequences: how the ultimate occupation of all Belgium and northern France would put the Germans in possession of the industrial power of both countries, of the manufactures of Liege, the coal of the Borinage, the iron ore of Lorraine, the factories of Lille, the rivers and railroads and agriculture, and how this occupation, feeding German ambition and fastening upon France the fixed resolve to fight to the last drop of recovery and reparation, would block all later attempts at compromise peace or “peace without victory” and would prolong the war for four more years.

At the time of the disaster General Marquis de Laguiche, the French military attache came to express his condolences to the Commander • in Chief. ‘We are happy to have made such sacrifices for our Allies,” the Grand Duke replied gallantly. Equanimity in the face of catastrophe was his code, and Russians, in the knowledge of inexhaustible supplies of manpower, are accustomed to accepting gigantic fatalities with comparative calm. The Russian steam roller in which the Western Allies placed such hopes, which after their debacle on the Western Front was awaited even more anxiously, had fallen apart on the road as if it had been put together with pins. In its premature start and early demise it had been. Just as the Grand Duke said, a sacrifice for an ally. Whatever it cost the Russians, the sacrifice accomplished what the French wanted: withdrawal of German strength from the Western Front. The two corps that came too late for Tannenberg were to be absent from the Mame.

But Francois faced battle, whereas Kluck, thinking he faced only pursuit and mopping up, ignored the precaution. He believed the French incapable, after ten days of retreat, of the morale and energy required to turn around at the sound of the bugle and fight again. Nor was he worried about his flank. “The General fears nothing from the direction of Paris,” recorded an officer on September 4. “After we have destroyed the remains of the Franco-British Army he will return to Paris and give the IVth Reserve the honor of leading the entry into the French capital.”

In conclusion:

After the Marne the war grew and spread until it drew in the nations of both hemispheres and entangled them in a pattern of world conflict no peace treaty could dissolve. The Battle of the Mame was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back, Joffre told the soldiers on the eve. Afterward there was no turning back. The nations were caught in a trap, a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit.

A recommended read in the areas of history and military conflicts.


On Richard Branson The Autobiography

I recently finished reading Losing My Virginity: Richard Branson – The Autobiography.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “There was a great sense of teamwork within our family. Whenever we were within Mum’s orbit we had to be busy. If we tried to escape by saying that we had something else to do, we were firmly told we were selfish. As a result we grew up with a clear priority of putting other people first.”

2- “Later, it became apparent to me that business could be a creative enterprise in itself. If you publish a magazine, you’re trying to create something that is original, that stands out from the crowd, that will last and, hopefully, serve some useful purpose. Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That has always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving; it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

3- “In the many different business worlds I have inhabited since that night in prison, there have been times when I could have succumbed to some form of bribe, or could have had my way by offering one. But ever since that night in Dover prison I have never been tempted to break my vow. My parents had always drummed into me that all you have in life is your reputation: you may be very rich, but if you lose your good name you’ll never be happy. Th( The thought will always lurk at the back of your mind that people don’t trust you. I had never really focused on what a good name truly meant before, but that night in prison made me understand.”

4- “It is always difficult to admit to a failure, but the one positive thing about the Event episode was that I realized how important it was to separate the various Virgin companies so that, if one failed, it would not threaten the rest of the Virgin Group. Event was a disaster, but it was a contained disaster. Every successful businessman has failed at some ventures. and most entrepreneurs who run their own companies have been declared bankrupt at least once. Rather than defaulting on our debts, we paid them up and shut down the magazine.”

5- “It was one of our early acquisitions, and it gave us first-hand experience of all the pain that comes with laying off staff in order to turn a company round. It also demonstrated the benefits of growing a company from scratch, when you employ exactly those people you want, and really f establish the kind of atmosphere you want.”

6- “In the same way that I tend to make up my mind about people within thirty seconds of meeting them, I also make up my mind about whether a business proposal excites me within about thirty seconds of looking at it. I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics. This might be because, due to my dyslexia, I distrust numbers, which I feel can be twisted to prove anything.”

7- “As well as the constrictions of having to report to nonexecutive directors and shareholders, one of my main i frustrations with being a public company quoted on the stock market was the short-term view which investors took. We were under pressure to produce instant results, and unless we paid out a large dividend our share price would suffer. Japanese investors do) not invest with the dividend payment in mind; they look almost exclusively for capital growth. And, given that it can take a long time for investments to pay off. Japanese share prices are very high in comparison i with the company’s earnings.”

8- “It sometimes seems to me that I have spent all my life trying to persuade bankers to extend their loans. Given that Virgin’s policy has always been to reinvest our surplus cash back into the business, our profit and loss accounts understate the underlying value of the businesses. This policy has worked over the long term. but whenever there is a crisis it disguises the real picture and means that the banks worry about our short-term profits and ability to pay our immediate interest.”

9- “Obstinate as I am, I recognized that there is a time to back down. ‘Live for the present -‘ I heard my parents’ old maxim in the back of my head ‘- and the future will look after itself.'”

10- “You just need to look at where Virgin is now to see that business is a fluid, changing substance. As far as I’m concerned, the company will never stand still. It has always been a mutating, indefinable thing and the past few years have demonstrated that.”

11- “My vision for Virgin has never been rigid and changes constantly, like the company itself. I have always lived my life by making lists: lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen. Each day I work through these lists, and it is that sequence of calls which propels me forward.”

12- “In some ways it all boils down to convention. As you might have noticed, I do not set much store by such so-called wisdom. Conventionally, you concentrate on what you are doing and never stray beyond fairly narrow boundaries when running a company. Not only lo I find that restrictive, I also think that it’s dangerous. If you only run record shops and refuse to embrace change, when something new like the Internet is launched you will lose your sales to the person who makes use of the new medium. It’s far better to set up your own Internet operation to which your record shops lose business than lose it to somebody else’s Internet operation.”


Omar Halabieh

Richard Branson